Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Welcoming Dinner from Gucheon Middle School

The teachers at Gucheon Middle School were anxious to leave school today. I could see them glancing at the clock every few minutes, and when 4:30 came around, they all stood up and beckoned me to follow. This is yet another example of a very common Korean belief: foreigners never have plans.

I still wasn’t feeling 100% yet, so my original plans for the night were to have a nice dinner with Jess, work on the blog, and watch a movie. But within the span of ten seconds it all changed; I was going to have dinner with them whether I wanted to or not.

We piled into two cars and drove off towards Bunam. One of the teachers was eager for me to try his favourite restaurant, but when we arrived, we found out that they didn’t have enough room for the ten of us. We left, walked down the street, and managed to find a bigger one (this one could hold twelve people!).

Within seconds of sitting down, the teachers proceeded to order copious amounts of meat and soju. Despite only having a sip of water before any alcohol was brought to the table, some of the teachers started acting considerably less sober. The volume increased, ties were loosened, and I was subjected to countless pats on the back as they “officially integrated” me onto their teaching staff. If this is what it was like before the soju, I couldn’t wait to see them after a few rounds.

They handed out shot-glasses and jumpstarted the night with a huge “weehayo!”

Down went the first drink.

It didn’t take very long to figure out that they each wanted to have a drink with me, so I apologized to my liver and dove headfirst into their slurry of hugs, Korean jokes that I didn’t understand, more drinks, tighter hugs, more jokes, butt grabbing (yup, one of the teachers grabbed my butt), even more drinks, and lots and lots of squeezing (my cheeks, arms, legs, or whatever else I didn’t guard with my life). After what seemed like an eternity of “integration”, the meat showed up.

They fired up the grills in the center of the tables, scraped huge pieces of lard over the whole surface, and grilled pounds and pounds of meat. Surprisingly, the dinner itself was rather quiet, but one quick look around explained everything; there was so much food packed into their mouths that no sounds could possibly escape! They shoveled, nay, they vacuumed every scrap of food in sight, and when one of the teachers did try and break the silence, his or her voice was preceded by a generous heap of pre-chewed dinner. Yummy...

The internet is packed with resources for Korean dining etiquette, but I thought I’d take a moment to clarify a few of them based on my personal experience:

Rule #1: Never pour your own drink. A Korean would rather leave his or her glass dry the entire night than pour his or her own drink.

Rule #2: After a few drinks, Rule #1 no longer applies.

Rule #3: Everything must be received with two hands (bowls, cups, drinks, money etc.).

Rule #4: After a few drinks, Rule #3 no longer applies.

Rule #5: Every Korean will try and teach you something. 

Rule #6: After a few drinks, you will be applauded for everything you have learned.

Rule #7: Don’t eat from your rice bowl with chopsticks. Always use your spoon.

Rule #8: After a few drinks, you will lose your spoon so you will have no choice.

Rule #9: Never touch food with your fingers.

Rule #10: After a few drinks, touch everything with your fingers.

Rule #11: Never slurp.

Rule #12: After a few drinks, always slurp.

Rule #13: Don’t talk about anything controversial.

Rule #14: After a few drinks, you will be asked your opinion on every controversial subject they can think of.

Rule #15: Keep personal comments to yourself.

Rule #16: After a few drinks, you will hear a lot of personal comments being thrown around (cheap, fat, skinny, ugly, old etc.) in “good fun”.

Rule #17: Racism and sexism are “faux-pas” at the dinner table.

Rule #18: After a few drinks, racism and sexism are hot topics at the dinner table.

Rule #19: Always chew with your mouth closed.

Rule #20: After a few drinks, show everyone what you are currently chewing, and if asked a question, kindly send a small parcel of your dinner into their rice bowl in mid-sentence.

Rule #21: All Korean food is good for you in some way.

Rule #22: Koreans love to act as nutritionists. All Korean food is good for you in some way, but no two Koreans will have the same “facts” about which tissue, organ, or disease it is good for.

Rule #23: Korean delicacies are the best in the world.

Rule #24: Stay away from Korean delicacies.

Rule #25: A full mouth makes for a happy host.

Rule #26: If even the tiniest bit of air can escape through your mouth while you are chewing, you will be questioned if you enjoy it or not.

Rule #27: If it can fit, it can be swallowed (that’s what she said).

Rule #28: If you know any First Aid whatsoever, turn off your “spidy-senses”. Everyone seems like they are on the verge of needing the Heimlich, so it’s better to just ignore it.

The night ended with a final “weehayo!”

We left the restaurant and said our goodbyes with far too many deep bows, sloppy handshakes, and pats on the back.

I was “officially integrated” onto their team…

- Ken


  1. Christine(Jess's mom)7 October 2009 at 12:42

    I hope you could manage yourself under untold(?) Korean culture pressure. Good luck, Ken

  2. Oh that's too funny! I had tears in my eyes reading that. I had to read it again...Well, so much for Jess working on your manners!!!